Family back calls for Government investigation into mental health services of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust
The family of a young woman who died after falling from a height off a cliff in Brighton have today spoken of their grief and anger ahead of an inquest into her death, which is due to open on 22 May 2023.
An aspiring teacher and a passionate musician, Rachel Garrett was 22 years old when she tragically died on 29 July 2020.
She had been a second-year student at Bath Spa University but had returned home to Hove the previous year due to an escalating crisis in her mental health.
At the time of her death, Rachel’s family had been desperately fighting to get her readmitted to a secure mental health ward for treatment and support. They believe that her death was the result of her sixth suicide attempt in a four-week period.
At the inquest which will take place in Brighton later this month, the hearing will examine the care Rachel received from Sussex mental health services, including her GP, at A&E, and from Sussex Partnership Foundation NHS Trust mental health services in the community and at Meadowfield Hospital.
The family have also said that they are anxious that the inquest examines the actions of the police in their contact with Rachel, including the use of force and arrest. Her parents are particularly concerned that in the same month of her death she was held in a cell over a four-day period and charged with a criminal offence.
Ahead of the hearing, Rachel’s parents have backed calls from other bereaved families for urgent action to be taken by ministers and health regulators into failings by Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust, after a Telegraph investigation last year revealed that more 360 patients took their own lives under their care between 2016 and 2021.
The call to action coincides with an ongoing independent inquiry into the deaths of mental health inpatients in Essex between 2000 and 2020, during which families, carers and friends of those who have died will speak of their experiences, alongside ‘staff, former-staff, relevant professionals and organisations’.
Speaking of their loss, Rachel’s father, Andy Garrett, said: “Rachel was a courageous, fun, sensitive, loving person who made friends everywhere she went. Her vitality and effervescence were the beating heart of the family.”
Rachel’s mother, Sarah Garrett added: “Rachel was a natural campaigner and wanted to use her lived experience of disability and mental ill health to make a difference to others. She was an active ambassador for the eating disorder charity Beat and wanted to become a teacher to help other young people.
"We are devastated by our loss, and hope that the inquest will provide some answers to the many questions that we have about the circumstances surrounding her death."
Rachel had cerebral palsy from birth, which contributed to regular episodes of fatigue. She also had a form of neurodiversity, with unusual developmental patterns in her childhood and continual challenges with emotional regulation. Rachel also experienced disordered eating which developed into anorexia, requiring inpatient treatment in her late teens. This treatment had a positive impact, but her broader mental health challenges continued.
Despite these physical and mental challenges, Rachel was a talented drummer in the Brighton band grasshopper from the age of 14, playing major festivals including the Isle of Wight.
Rachel’s mental health significantly deteriorated at the end of her first year of university in June 2019. A few months later she was diagnosed with Emotional Instability or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, although she and her family had concerns about this diagnosis and the impact it had on the care she received.
In the months before her death, the family also believe that Rachel felt increasingly dismissed by mental health services leading to her father making a complaint to PALS on her behalf in April 2020. Her parents say that they had been ‘forced to become near full-time carers’, and that they felt that they had ‘little to no support from mental health services’.
Her parents say that when her condition ‘suddenly and dramatically flared up’ again at the beginning of July, they ‘repeatedly issued severe and dire warnings to the services which were tragically ignored or rejected out of hand’.
They say they are also ‘deeply concerned about a lack of consideration of the intersections of Rachel’s physical health and mental health treatment, including the use and management of medications’.
At the hearing the family say they hope to better understand the professional oversight of Rachel’s care, and the response across the services engaged to five previous suicide attempts, particularly in her final 24 hours. It is hoped the inquest will explore these and uncover any failures in Rachel’s care and treatment.
Rachel’s family are being represented at the inquest by Chris Callender, a public law expert at Simpson Millar, and are being supported by the charity INQUEST.
Speaking ahead of the hearing Chris Callender said: “Rachel’s family are understandably devastated by their loss.
“They have a number of questions regarding the care that she received in the months and days leading up to her death, and the support that was made available to her in light of her mental and physical health needs. It is contrary to common sense that a highly distressed young person can be permitted by mental health services to repeatedly undertake extremely high risk visits to a cliff edge and not be contained and treated.
"It has been almost three years since her death, and the family hope this inquest will provide them with some further insight into what happened."
Partner, Head of Claims against Public Authorities
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